Baltimore Ravens: Can the O-Line Protect Joe Flacco?

Barry BarnesContributor IIISeptember 7, 2011

KANSAS CITY, MO - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens is hit by linebacker Jovan Belcher #59 of the Kansas City Chiefs after a five yard gain in the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9, 2011 in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Let’s face it; no protection equals no success—making it the foundation to all achievements in the NFL.  Based off last season, the Baltimore Ravens were among several teams in the league who suffered from LPS—Lack of Protection Syndrome.

The reason why the Ravens are faced with the LPS question this season is due to the expectations of being one of the hand full Super Bowl contenders.  So naturally, the limelight should be on their illness.

According to popular opinion, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is notorious for holding the ball longer than normal.  Some is of Flacco’s doing as he hesitates to deliver a strike in a timely manner, and some is not—due to the poor pass protection he has experienced which forced him to escape pressure with side steps in hopes to complete a pass.

Clearly, the question of Flacco’s protection may be at an all-time high.  The Ravens offense needs to be as effective as the defense is projected to be as All-Pros, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, look to ride off into the sunset with a championship (Reed’s first). 

Heading into Week 1 of the NFL, the Ravens continue to search for answers as to who to start or who to sign for the offensive line.  After the selected individuals are in place, will the Ravens protective front be good enough to protection Flacco?

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 01:  Michael Oher #74 of the Baltimore Ravens watches from the bench against the Atlanta Falcons at Georgia Dome on September 1, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Ravens are juggling with the offensive line, whether to use tackle Michael Oher on the right or the left side, depending if tackle Bryant McKinnie is physically ready or not.  Then, there is the center Matt Birk situation, who had knee surgery before training camp and has not played a down during the preseason.

The Ravens experiment with guard/tackle Bryan Mattison at the center position during the preseason had its ups and down - not bad for a converted defensive lineman.

Oher knows that the addition of McKinnie will ultimately make the team better and him as well.

"We are going to be a great team with him, and that's exactly what we needed," said Oher, according to Ravens.com. "I am going to work hard and be the best player that I can be at any position. Just playing and helping my team win is all that really matters."

The Ravens added more pounds to their offensive line when they signed the two-time All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowl former Dallas Cowboy center Antore Gurode to a one-year deal Tuesday.

 "We just got better as a team," said Ravens executive vice president and general manager Ozzie Newsome. “To have a successful season, you have to have quality depth across the board. We just added great depth to the interior of our offensive line with Andre."

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Safety Ed Reed #20 of the Baltimore Ravens and wide receiver Hines Ward #86 of the Pittsburgh Steelers are separated by a referee after a play during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pitts
Nick Laham/Getty Images

The Ravens may have solved their LPS for the season, but their treatment will be tested out the gate—against the Pittsburgh Steelers in their season, home opener on Sept. 11.   

The Ravens may have two offensive linemen starting in the opener who have not played during the preseason, in Birk or Gurode at center or McKinnie at the left tackle.  Both Birk and Gurode had knee surgery at the beginning of training camp causing them to be sidelined, and McKinnie was not in playing shape in terms of his weight to participate on the field. 

Neither of these Ravens are in football playing shape, and most importantly, not in Steeler playing shape, as their contests are not normal football games—its UFC style football.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is confident that McKinnie’s experience will get him up to speed in order to play well on game day, if he’s physically ready.

“He’s (McKinnie) a veteran. He knows the pass protection,” said Harbaugh in his press conference on Aug. 27. “He knows the run plays and the running. He’s got to translate the techniques a little bit. But, mainly, he’s got to translate the terminology, and that is tough in the heat of battlelike with the checks and the changes that happen on the line.

“The cadence, all those things that are quick split-second things that he’s not used to hearing, those are the things that will probably take the longest, and they have to happen in games or in as many of the high-speed drills that we can do between now and actually playing.”

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 15:  Linebacker James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rushes against offensive tackle Michael Oher #74 of the Baltimore Ravens during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Heinz Field on January 15, 2011 in Pittsburgh, Pennsy
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Steelers will bring pressure from all areas of the field to expose the Ravens’ weakness at the offensive line, as they want to get on track with a win by getting over their hangover after their Super Bowl loss to the Green Bay Packers.

The Ravens will have trouble at protecting Flacco in September, but after that, they should be in order, with the majority of the kinks worked out.

After the Steelers in Week 1, the Ravens will face the Tennessee Titans, and they should be fine at protecting their franchise.  Surprisingly, the St. Louis Rams have an underrated, decent defensive line led by linebacker James Laurinaitis and defensive Chris Long with a host of veteran leaders like former Ravens Justin Bannon who can apply pressure on the quarterback. 

The Rams finished seventh in the NFL in sacks last season with 43, five short of the Steelers who finished at the top with 48.

Ravens fullback Vonta Leach is a quality blocker, and running back Ray Rice is not bad at blocking, either.

When the New York Jets come to Baltimore on Oct. 2, the Ravens offensive line should be clicking, and after their bye, the coaching staff will see where they are at in terms of line protection and make changes if needed.

However, Flacco must be able to point out and recognize where the pressure is coming so he can properly direct traffic to find the open man quicker, which would help take some of the pressure off the offensive line.

The protection will be there for Flacco throughout the season, and depending on how efficient Flacco is with his wide receivers, the Ravens should have a better air attack for the 2011 season. Nevertheless, out the gate, LPS may cause a minor setback for the purple and black.   

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